Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fancy Lunch at Osteria al Doge

On Friday, I went with my teamlet from work to a "Fancy Lunch" at Osteria al Doge. It's one of the few good places in Times Square that I hadn't been to yet, so I was excited to check it out.

We arrived at the restaurant and were given a choice of tables in the relatively long and narrow dining room. We settled into a table in the middle of the room and observed the decor. The phrase that encapsulates the decorating scheme (a phrase I used repeatedly while we were there) is "farmhouse chic." From the fauxthentic wooden farmhouse tables to the enormous sunflowers to the plates adorning the walls... it's bright, sunny, and cute.

As we debated the various menu choices, a waiter brought over a small dish of olives. While some of them were a bit on the suspiciously shriveled side, they all tasted good.

Olives, not raisins

We placed our order, and a bread basket appeared on our table. There were several kinds of bread, including foccacia, crostini, slices of hearty white bread, and some sort of flavored roll. I wasn't really in the mood for bread (weird, I know), so I tried just a tiny nibble of the focaccia, which was okay but not spectacular. The most puzzling part of the bread course was that the bread came with no accompaniment-- no butter, no oil, nothing. And when my manager AA asked for some olive oil, he was presented with one of the largest olive oil receptacles I've come across in a while: a huge, heavy bottle with slick sides just BEGGING to slip out of your fingers, resulting in an oil spill of Exxon-Valdez proportions. I'm just sayin'.

Large selection of bread for four people

A disaster waiting to happen

Moving past the bread, we started with an antipasto plate for the table. I watched as the waiter selected our vegetables from the extensive spread displayed at the front of the room. They also gracefully accommodated our request for the prosciutto on a separate plate (AA's very kind nod to my vegetarianism). The vegetable selection was extensive and quite delicious: Marinated portobello mushrooms; vinegary carrot-and-raisin slaw; waffle-cut red beets; grilled zucchini and yellow squash; a few asparagus spears; roasted red pepper; grilled eggplant; white bean and celery salad; and a garnish of fresh mozzarella cheese. I tried everything except the roasted red pepper and the mozzarella (and the prosciutto, obviously), and it was all fresh and delicious. Quite well done.

A cornucopia of tastes and visual interest

This prosciutto is oddly beautiful

We polished off the antipasto easily, and the entrees were not long in arriving. AA got the branzino, which came with a bed of mashed potatoes and a few clams for garnish. He really enjoyed this dish, which provided a large two-fillet portion.

Creamy sauce... mashed potatoes... but it's fish, so it's healthy

RH went for one of the day's specials: a seafood platter. It was a huge plate of seafood with scallops, mussels, prawns...some other stuff...and a cup of salad in the middle. This was a bountiful display of seafood, and RH seemed to enjoy it.

The best the ocean has to offer

BS selected the dorade with puttanesca sauce. This elicited a discussion of the word "puttanesca" (which is derived from the word for "whore") and some healthy speculation of why the sauce would be named that way. Regardless of nomenclature, BS really liked this dish, and he even bestowed his caperberries upon me, which I devoured, as I definitely enjoy the odd caperberry.

The puttanesca sauce certainly looks fiery...

My entree was a tricolore salad, with endive, radicchio, arugula, and shaved parmesan. I asked and received the dressing on the side; it was a rather thin balsamic vinaigrette that didn't add much. The salad was quite good, though; all the ingredients were chopped into manageable pieces, and there was a deceptively large amount of salad. The shaved parmesan, which came in thick sheets rather than flimsy thin slices, was the highlight, not surprisingly. I was very satisfied with this salad and would get it again.

There's more there than first meets the eye

We closed out the meal with a complimentary plate of tiny cookies, which included two tiny meringues (which I ate), two biscotti, and a small handful of candied almonds. It was a sweet ending to a good meal.

That's BS's thumbs-up, indicating his hearty approval of free cookies

Osteria is a bit pricey, but the food is top quality and the atmosphere is classy. I would definitely go again with a group from work, and I would also recommend it as a pre-theater option if you're in the area. Based on the food and the abundance of gratis accompaniments (including olives and cookies), I award Osteria four Offset Spatulas.

Osteria al Doge
142 W. 44th Street, between 7th and 6th Aves

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